December 25, 2004, Vol. VI, No. 23
Meditation on Siddha Deha
Q & A with Swami B. V. Tripurari
Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura characteristically did not discuss in detail the emergence of a disciple's siddha deha, but emphasized its realization through kirtana of Krsna nama and the smarana that arises naturally from this.
Q. Some devotees say that one's svarupa, or spiritual identity, is already within us and is realized through spiritual practice (sadhana). Other devotees say that it is not something that is already existing but rather manifests according to one's desire. Which is it?
A. One's eternal svarupa is already existing but needs to be realized by hearing and chanting. This is explained by Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, krsna prema nitya siddha sadhya kabu naya, sravanadi suddha citte karaye udaya. One's svarupa is a manifestation of Krsna prema, which is eternally existing in perfection (nitya siddha krsna prema). It is not something that was not existing at some point and later comes into existence (sadhya kabhu naya). Hearing, chanting, and so on, about Krsna (sravanadi) purifies one's consciousness (suddha citte), at which time one's eternal svarupa awakens (karaye udaya). This awakening involves the experience of desiring to serve Krsna in a particular sentiment.
According to Bhaktivinoda, as the svarupa becomes visible to the guru, he or she guides the disciple's bhajan accordingly, at which time the disciple cultivates the budding desire to serve Krsna in a particular sentiment. It is also possible that one's inherent svarupa may begin to awaken and then be cultivated by the disciple without external guidance. This is explained by Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura in his Ragavartma Candrika. The Thakura cites the following verse from Srimad Bhagavatam:
yatha yathatma parimrjyate 'saumat-
tatha pasyati vastu suksmamcaksur
Just as a diseased eye treated with medicinal ointment will gradually be able to see more clearly, similarly a conscious living entitythe seerpurified by hearing and chanting the virtuous narrations of my glories, is gradually able to see more and more subtle truths. (SB 11.14.26)
Commenting on this verse in his Ragavartma Candrika 1.9, Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura writes that when sacred greed for Vraja bhakti awakens within the sadhaka's heart, Bhagavan illuminates the sadhaka's goal both externally as Sri Guru and internally as the indwelling oversoul, the antaryami. The Thakura explains that such sadhakas may receive instructions concerning the esoteric truths of raganuga sadhana bhakti either directly from the mouth of Sri Guru or a qualified sadhu, or such instructions will manifest of their own accord in the heart of the sadhaka purified by hearing and chanting.
Thus one's svarupa is already existing and at the same time it is experienced as the sadhaka's desire to serve in a particular sentiment. When Bhaktivinoda Thakura speaks about one's svarupa being inherent, he means that one's svarupa exists in potential, just as an infant's capacity to walk is inherent, and given the right circumstances, he or she will eventually walk. The jiva is a manifestation of the tatastha sakti, which is a partial manifestation of the svarupa sakti, the svarupa sakti being the source of all sakti. Unlike the maya sakti, which is a distorted manifestation of the svarupa sakti, the tatastha sakti has the potential to live in the conscious world as an eternal servant of Bhagavan. This potential can be realized when the tatastha sakti comes in contact with the current of the guru-parampara, which is the channel through which the svarupa sakti extends itself to the jiva soul. The partial expression of the svarupa sakti that the jiva is constituted of is insufficient to afford it standing in the lila of Bhagavan in and of itself. In order for it to realize its full potential it requires an investment from above, just as a small business requires an investment of capital to realize its potential to go public.
Q. In his Harinama Cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains the manifestation of the spiritual body in five stages, from sravana dasa to sampati dasa. The third stage smarana dasa has five levels. In the first of these levels meditation is said to be unsteady or fluctuating. However, in Madhurya Kadambini, it is said that meditation on the asakti level is uninterrupted. Does this mean that meditation on one's siddha deha can be performed before the devotional stage of asakti?
A. In his Harinama Cintamani, Thakura Bhaktivinoda emphasizes that as one advances in chanting the holy name one should simultaneously engage in smaranam (meditation) on Sri Krsna's form, qualities, and lila in this order. The particular form in which Krsna appears in meditation replete with particular qualities corresponds with his worshiper's budding sentiment. This meditation then places one's Deity in the appropriate lilas for further meditation. After explaining this, Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes that meditation on Sri Krsna's lila is to be performed from the perspective of one's siddha deha (perfected spiritual body).
In support of the practice of meditating on one's siddha deha and Krsna's eightfold daily nitya-lila, Bhaktivinoda Thakura cites the Ramananda-samvada of Caitanya-caritamrta. Therein Ramananda Raya, acting as the raga marga guru of Sri Krsna Caitanya, explains to him the theoretical truth concerning one's siddha deha. It is notable that this occurs after Mahaprabhu has taken sannyasa and has been engaged in Sri Krsna sankirtana for some time.
At this point in Harinama Cintamani the Thakura writes that in order to begin this bhajana of meditating on the daily lila of Sri Krsna and one's siddha deha, one must first hear about these things in theory from one's guru. He calls this sravana dasa. Sravana dasa is followed by varana dasa. Varana dasa involves the disciple expressing his experience of his emerging spiritual identity, and in response to this revelation Sri Guru confirms and further clarifies this identity. When the disciple embraces this identity, he or she begins the practice of meditating on both the siddha deha and the daily lila of Sri Krsna. This meditation involves five stages, remembrance (smarana), self-reminding (dharana), absorption in the object of meditation (dhyana), uninterrupted meditation (anusmrti), and comprehensive meditation (samadhi).
It appears from the text of Harinama Cintamani that the emergence of one's siddha deha occurs at a later stage of devotion. Indeed, the entire discussion of this is reserved for the final section of the final chapter of the book, the greater balance of which consists of a treatise on offenseless chanting of Krsna nama. The idea that the emergence and subsequent discussion or experience of one's siddha deha develops at a later stage of devotion is consistent with the Thakura's bhajana siksa in his book Bhajana Rahasya.
The foremost follower of Thakura Bhaktivinoda, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, characteristically did not discuss in detail the emergence of his disciple's siddha deha, but emphasized its realization through kirtana of Krsna nama and the smarana that arises naturally from this. He writes that hearing about Krsna-lila (sravana dasa) is followed by kirtana of that which one has heard (varana dasa). When this kirtana is performed in light of a particular devotional mood cultivated by the kirtaneer, this in turn gives rise to meditation (smarana dasa). See also his commentary on Upadesamrta 8.
Both of these acaryas have emphasized that one's siddha deha is experienced at the stage of asakti, at which time deep meditation on one's siddha deha is possible. Thakura Bhaktivinoda writes in his Bhajana Rahasya, pancamete suddha dasya rucira sahita hare rama sankirtana smarana vihita:
With the fifth pair of names (in the maha mantraHare Rama), as one's taste (ruci) for chanting increases (asakti), one attains an attitude of pure servitude (manifestation of the siddha deha); and as one chants Hare Rama, one should take up the practice of smaranam.
Examined in context, this is a clear reference to the stage of asakti, at which time Bhaktivinoda writes one should take up the practice of smaranam. Commenting further on the stage of asakti, Thakura Bhaktivinoda writes later on in Bhajana Rahasya, At this stage of cultivating the practice of the holy name, the aspirant prays for knowledge of his eternal spiritual identity and for service to Lord Krsna. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sets the example in his Siksastaka (5).
However, some followers of these acaryas feel that nistha is the threshold for the practice of raganuga bhakti that involves meditating on one's emerging siddha deha, while others stress the stage of ruci just prior to asakti. Ruci is the stage at which raganuga bhakti sadhana proper (jata ruci raganuga) is performed, and thus some degree of meditation on one's siddha deha is certainly possible.
Ruci has two stages of its own. The first stage involves taste for bhakti that is dependent on externals being in place, such as the kirtana being performed with musical proficiency, or Hari katha being poetically embellished. The second stage involves taste for bhakti that is not dependent on these externals. In these respective stages meditation can be distracted (smarana) and involves a deliberate effort (dharana).
Anusmrti (the fourth stage of uninterrupted meditation) is achieved in bhava-bhakti. Asakti involves natural meditation from which one cannot trace how one's mind drifts from mundane thought to absorption in the object of devotion. This is the opposite of the experience at the stage of nistha, where one cannot trace out how one's mind drifts away from thoughts of the object of devotion to mundane thoughts. This is not anusmrti, but rather the third stage of meditation, dhyana, wherein meditation is not deliberate but spontaneous.
The above analysis of the stages of meditation in relation to stages of advancement is no doubt a conservative one. In his Bhakti-sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami, citing verses from several scriptures, has described the five stages of meditation similarly. He describes the first stage of meditation (smarana) in a more liberal way (a sinner somehow or other thinking of Visnu); however, he describes the second stage of self-reminding (dharana) as anusmarana, constant meditation. Sri Jiva describes the third stage (dhyana) as undivided meditation on God that enables one to endure the dualities of heat and cold, pleasure and pain, and so on, envisioning such difficulties as blessings. Jiva Goswami describes the fourth stage (anusmrti) as never forgetting Krsna even for a moment. He cites Vyasa's trance that gave rise to Srimad Bhagavatam as an example of the fifth stage (samadhi).
While Sri Jiva's description of the second through the fifth stages apply well to the forgoing analysis, I don't think Sri Jiva's liberal explanation of the first stage of meditation is what Thakura Bhaktivinoda had in mind when writing about the first stage of meditation on the eightfold nitya-lila of Sri Sri Radha Krsna from the vantage point of one's eternally perfected spiritual body. Nor does it fit well with the teaching of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Overall, so little is written anywhere on these stages that they are left open to some degree of interpretation, and acaryas have thus taken an interpretive license when writing about them.
As mentioned above, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura discusses sravana dasa, etc., including the five stages of meditation, in his commentary on Upadesamrta 8. After concluding this discussion he states:
When a devotee following the path of vaidhi bhakti (here he refers to ajata ruci raganuga) abandons his variety of material desires and performs bhajana in accordance with the instruction of sat-guru, sastra, and Vaisnava, ruci arises in his bhajana. Upon the appearance of ruci, he abandons the path of vaidhi bhakti and enters the path of raganuga (jata ruci raganuga).
Ajata ruci raganuga bhakti, or raganuga sadhana bhakti that is not motivated primarily by taste but rather by intellect, is often referred to by both Bhaktivinoda and Saraswati Thakura as vaidhi bhakti. By this they do not mean the path of vaidhi bhakti that leads to majestic love of God. Thus their emphasis on raganuga bhakti seems to stress jata ruci raganuga as that sadhana in which all the components of raganuga sadhana, such as meditation on one's siddha deha, will be in place. This is certainly the emphasis of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura in expressing his understanding of the teachings of Thakura Bhaktivinoda.
As a rule, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura did not personally discuss in detail meditation on the siddha deha with his disciples. In this regard he did not do what Thakura Bhaktivinoda writes about in Harinama Cintamani with regard to the guru discussing the siddha deha with a disciple at an advanced stage of practice. He emphasized realizing one's siddha deha through kirtana and the smaranam that arises naturally from it.
In this regard I was recently forwarded biographical notes from one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples, and a section of his notes contrasts the approach that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura taught regarding realization of one's siddha deha and that of Lalita Prasada, his brother. Both of these gurus considered themselves followers of Thakura Bhaktivinoda. This disciple of Srila Prabhupada was initiated first by Srila Prabhupada and later he received bhajana siksa, etc. secretly from Lalita Prasada while Srila Prabhupada was still among us. To my knowledge he is not active in Gaudiya Vaisnavism at this time.
He relates the following: When Prabhupada came to Vrndavana for a visit, I got Dr. Kapoor to come with me to ask about it (discussing one's siddha deha). Prabhupada said, This is not done in our line. One must realize his relationship for himself. One cannot just jump ahead. When one is ripe and ready, it will be revealed from within . . . I am a cowherd boy.
This, I believe, represents the policy of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Representing the approach of Lalita Prasada, the same devotee writes:
He [Lalita Prasada] called Bhakta Ma to help pick a name for me. She came up with Sudha Manjari. He had me pick an age I wanted to be from eight to thirteen. Thirteen. He said my color was golden, and I wore a sky blue sari, and that color combination was very beautiful. He asked me what service I liked performing the best. I enjoyed bathing the Deity of Radha and dressing her in the morning. That became my eternal service. My abode is Mahananda Kunja, a bower in Vrndavana. Lalita Prasad told me not to change any of these things without his permission, and to always meditate on them. He gave me a printed list of the disciplic succession with their spiritual identities and a place to add my name and information to the succession.
It should be noted that this devotee had not attained a particularly advanced stage of devotion such as nistha or ruci when Lalita Prasada gave him this information. I leave it for the reader to decide which approach better represents Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Some devotees feel that the early stages of devotional life before ruci is attained involve at least remembrance (smarana) and self-reminding (dharana) of one's siddha deha, as given by gurus in various Gaudiya lineages. Some of these devotees also point to evidence in the life of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and others he associated with that could be construed as support for this approach, one that is popular and has a long-standing tradition.
For the followers of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, perhaps the conclusion to be drawn from all of this is that meditation on one's siddha deha is appropriate at whatever stage and to whatever extent it manifests. By all means, whenever one's siddha deha begins to manifest, to that extent one should try to meditate on it. To get to that stage, take shelter of the guru of your choice and follow his or her bhajana siksa.